“We live in a world of perception,” my dad says, leaning back in his chair across from my younger, 24-year-old self. “For example,” he points at the kitchen table, “what color would you say that table is?”
I stare down at the table. It’s obviously brown. He obviously has some point he’s trying to make. –But I’m young and stubborn, and I’ll be darned if I’ll let him make it. “It’s light brown.” There. It’s not just brown; it’s light brown.
He sits up and leans forward, bushy eyebrows narrowed over sharp, blue eyes. “You’re right. It’s light brown. But,” he snaps, holding a finger up (pause for affect), “are you sure you’re seeing the same color of light brown I am?”
“Of course I am.”
“How do you know?”
Folks, I have to tell you now, my dad knows his kids. Immediately, my mind is engaged with this conundrum here. Okay, so I’m still stuck on knowing that dad has a point, but I can’t quite figure out what it is. Besides, all of a sudden the conversation has become interesting.
“Well, because light brown just is. It’s a lighter shade of basic brown.”
He goes into this long (and quite frankly, downright interesting) explanation of the eye. He verbally breaks the mechanisms of the eye down and then rebuilds it before me, explaining at each part how it works. Variations in shape, size and so on can cause the way a person sees something to differ from another – much like a fingerprint identifies an individual.
Wow. “So then, what color is the table to you?” I have to know, now. This is just… cool.
“Light brown. But that’s not the point.” He sits back again and grins at me. “The point is everyone sees things with their own perceptions, through their own biases, experiences, and thoughts, down to the color of a table.”
Can We Change Our Reality?
I never forgot that lesson. Eleven years later, as I put it down in so-called print, I’m reminded of how many times I’ve seen the truth of that oh-so-valid point. I’ve thought about it often, along with the question that has nagged me ever since. If life is perception, can we change our reality?
I think the answer is… why not? After all, my children change my reality all the time…
Exhibit A: Time Spent
“You never spend any time with me,” C says, tears in his eyes. “We never do anything together!”
“Wait, what? What about all the times we’ve sat and talked for hours? What about when I read you books or sang songs before you went to bed?”
“Well, yeah, but you hardly ever play with me!”
C’s perception of our reality is totally different than mine. While I thought we were spending quality time together, he felt like we never do – because quality time to him is throwing the ball around, wrestling… you know, guy stuff.
I don’t mind guy stuff; in fact, I like guy stuff. –BUT, I’m a 35-year-old mother with a bad back and a nerve disorder. Wrestling around for five minutes has the tendency to drop me to the floor for a few hours. I figured the talking, singing and reading was a good exchange. C, on the other hand, doesn’t consider that as spending time at all.
“Mommy, mommy! Can I buy the Pillow Pet on T.V.? Pleeeease?”
“You don’t have enough money, hon. It costs $20.00.”
“I have moneys.”
“Yes, but not enough.”
“How much I gots?”
“No, hon. You need more money than sixty cents to go buy a Pillow Pet.”
J runs off and comes back with a penny. “I got more moneys, Mommy! Now can I buy a Pillow Pet?”
Me: This is simple math. The Pillow Pet is $20.00. She has sixty cents. We’re missing $19.35 needed to buy the coveted Pillow Pet.
Her: This is simple math. The Pillow Pet is a lot of moneys. I don’t have enough moneys. More moneys means I can buy the Pillow Pet. I went and found more moneys, and Mommy still won’t let me buy the Pillow Pet.
If Our Reality is Based On Perception, Our Reality Can Change
Of course, we can’t stare at a table, see it as purple and have it change to purple. What we can change, however, is how we see people. –And how we see people has a lot to do with how we view reality.
As an adult, we all have the ability to choose how to react. Every day, we have the ability to decide that we’re going to take a lot of deep breaths instead of shouting at our children. We have the ability to decide we’re not going to break down when our work equipment breaks down. We’re not going to get upset when that annoying person in the cubicle next to us starts clicking her nails together. Yes, my friends, we can change our reality.
You see, I’ve learned something. When you’re busy being angry, you’re also busy being unhappy. When you’re busy being rude, you’re also busy practicing that rudeness.
Anger is a choice.
Frustration is a choice.
Boredom is a choice.
Happiness… it’s a choice.
You can’t change other people. You have no control over what they say, what they do or how they act. The crazy thing is that you also have no idea what’s going on in their heads or their lives for them to do what they’re doing.
The woman who rudely pushed past you on the street may have just lost the job that feeds her family. The man that cut you off in traffic and raced past may be racing to the hospital for a child. The old woman at the checkout may be counting her pennies because that’s all she has for the next week. The child with the vicious mouth that cusses at the top of his lungs may have turrets syndrome.
You can’t change other people, but you can pause before reacting. You can take a few minutes to acknowledge that there might be more going on than it seems in any situation.
You are the sum of your experiences, biases, thoughts and perceptions. This is your reality – and it starts with you.